By on September 26, 2012

Once the Detroit Big Three went to front-engined/snout-equipped cargo vans in the late 1960s and early 1970s, replacing the dangerous yet highly-maneuverable-in-alleyways forward-control/flat-nose vans that came before, those vans became much more practical for freeway driving (and family transportation). I still see plenty of 40-year-old Econolines, Beauvilles, and Tradesmen in junkyards these days, since these vans are so useful that most of them get flogged until they drop dead, but it (usually) takes one with some mid-70s-style customizing touches to make me break out the camera.
The Tradesman was the windowless “molester van” cargo hauler, much better suited than the passenger-van Sportsman for airbrush murals depicting jousting knights battling Aztec kings in a zebra herd at the Mars Base.
The most basic customization job on these vans, back when The Sweet was big and groovy chicks in tube tops alternated bongloads of Panama Red with swigs of Boone’s Farm, involved the application of circular bubble windows and some upholstery in the cargo area. If you wanted to increase the odds of enticing those groovy chicks into your van, you needed the airbrush mural, a quadrophonic 8-track sound system, and maybe a wood-burning stove.
I was in grade school back when the custom-van craze reached its zenith, and even then most people thought they were pretty goofy. I wanted a Porsche 914, not a custom van, when I was 8. And yet… I’m slaving away on my own custom van project now.

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29 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1972 Dodge Tradesman Custom Van...”

  • avatar

    If this van is a rocking don’t come a knocking!

  • avatar

    …..airbrush murals depicting jousting knights battling Aztec kings in a zebra herd at the Mars base.

    What an amazing visual that conjures up….!!

  • avatar

    Wow that is both shag-o-licious and awful at the same time. In the first thumbnail I thought that was fiberglass insulation; the lion fur carpet is so much creepier. My uncle had a forward control doge van when he lived with us back in 1973 and I can remember him cutting a huge sun roof into it with a reciprocating saw. I was seven, but if I remember correctly he finished it with plexiglass and caulk. Yea, that worked about as well as you would expect. He bragged that he still sold it for a huge profit. People were crazy for vans there for a while.

    • 0 avatar

      I also thought that was fiberglass insulation until I looked at the full size pics.

    • 0 avatar

      Hurray for crazy uncles. Mine fixed up a small boat to live in after he lost his treehouse with the waterbed in it. Now that I think about it I am suprised none of my uncles ever had one of these. Just Motorcycles, a King Cobra and lots of AMCs (they are all from Kenosha)

  • avatar

    I’m just marveled at the amount of insulation on the walls of this van. Were it intended for vacations in the Alaskan winter or something?

    • 0 avatar
      Mr Nosy

      My guess is that it was used to muffle sound.In L.A. during the 70’s, divorce was still new and parents were apt to let their kids run wild, much more so than now. Back then,Moms needed space to”Find themselves”. Dads had to “Get their heads together”. This resulted in a surplus amount of teenage hitchhiking.Most of the time,a dude wearing puka shells (Usually named Brad,Randy,or Hector) would offer these free-spirited teens a ride,featuring the above mentioned libations.This was followed by a night of laughter & hijinks at some local drive-in.The insulation served to muffle the sound from said hijinks,which could possibly disturb fellow patrons’ enjoyment of Foxes B/W Breaking Away.Unlucky teens met dudes named Kenneth,Angelo,or William.The insulation in these situations muffled their cries on the way to L.A.’s answer to New York’s Hudson River, Angeles National Forest.Thank God for parental divorce guilt,as it landed me a hand-me-down ’75 Pontiac Ventura. Because hitchhiking is dangerous.

  • avatar
    Roberto Esponja

    Yecchh…I get itchy just from looking at the inside of that thing. That carpeting looks like old attic insulation!

  • avatar

    People put wood stoves in these? Murilee are you serious? I know these are not the most rational vehicles but that is wack.

  • avatar

    Ah, such memories! I traded the ’66 A-100 for a ’74 E-100 complete with carpet, paneling and yes, an airbrushed mural on the sides. To complete the picture it had those cast aluminum wheels with bean shaped holes and Pos-A-Traction Torque Twister 60-series rubber. Air shocks provided the jacked up in the rear look.

    Lucky lager ($1.99/12-pack) was the intoxicant of choice, or a bottle of Mateus if I really wanted to impress a date.

    • 0 avatar

      Because Lucky had the puzzles under the cap!

      • 0 avatar

        I have a coffee can full of those caps from when my dad consumed that beverage while I was growing up, and I will pass them along to my kids to decipher when they are a few years older.

        I was in grade school during the van craze – I remember seeing lots of them, but they didn’t elicit any type of emotional response like the then-common muscle cars that all of the teenagers were driving (and destroying) did.

  • avatar

    How Shagarific is that van. Only in America would you find so many and so varied examples of these vehicles.

    Had a buddy 25 years ago who had one of these with a bed in the back, black lights, and a small fridge. Beforehe sold it during the cleanout he found a few earrings, panties, and stockings in various places.

  • avatar

    I dated a girl in Michigan who drove one of these. She called it her “Sin Bin”. Why did I let her get away?

  • avatar

    Don’t forget the color light bar on the ceiling that pulsated in tempo with the 8 track player…….

  • avatar
    schmitt trigger

    I remember seeing one of these, during the heights of hippiedom, that had a sign that read:

    No gas, no grass or no a$$, there ain’t a free ride.

  • avatar

    that gas filter is the same one i use on my 1953 oliver super 55 tractor!

  • avatar

    Too bad it ended up in the scrapyard after surviving 40 years.
    It could’ve been made in to the one below with a little bit (okay a lot) of elbow grease.

  • avatar

    Wow, that stuff on the inside looks like, erm…

    sound insulation…

    Iirc, these things used to have a two-word nickname that rhymed and the second word was ‘Truck’.

    Ah, but ain’t that Amurricah…

  • avatar

    Semi-actively seeking a long-wheelbase Big 3 van in decent condition and not too many miles for my portable shanty.

    Decrepit bodily condition makes accessing the pick-up shanty difficult and painful.

    A van is also more discreet for on-street living.

    When I, the Disgruntled Old Coot, relocates to the rolling house, it will be an outstanding opportunity for somebody with an electrical outlet and quiet place needing on-site watching over and growls at interlopers.

  • avatar

    Reminds me of Karl’s “Rape Van” from Workaholics.

    Karl: “I wrote that. The van doesn’t have any locks, and the word RAPE keeps all the weirdos away, bro.”

  • avatar

    Sometimes I think I might like to pick up a ’70s custom van – the idea of having a funky mobile bedroom/lounge to drive around and park wherever I want is sort of appealing. Then, I see pictures of shag carpeted interiors like that, and remind myself why I don’t want one. How do you clean all that? You don’t. Buying a 40 year-old van is buying 40 years worth of bodily fluids and odors soaked into the shag. I know what these things were originally built for and how they were used, so, no thanks.

  • avatar

    In the 70’s they had what they called “van bashes” in California. They were similar to biker meets like Sturgis and such, the only difference was people came in vans instead of on bikes. They came from all over the country.

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